Defining what personal failure looks like

In: entrepreneur

22 Oct 2015

The startup world loves to embrace failure, though it’s usually in a “launching companies is hard and don’t always work so don’t sweat it” kind of way. Failing in a more personal sense, like not accomplishing a goal you have set for yourself, is different. It hurts. And frankly, it should.

Most personal failures are rarely because of the outsized audaciousness of the goal. Personal failure is usually due to something far less glamorous: not doing the work. You wanted to get in shape for your wedding, but didn’t hit the gym as often as you needed to. You wanted to drop 20 lbs by summer, but you didn’t stick to the changes in your diet. You set a goal, but didn’t do the work, and failed.

“Personal failure is usually due to something far less glamorous: not doing the work.”

A common way to avoid feeling the sting of failure is to not set tangible goals. State “you want to get in better shape” while avoiding any specifics, and you can avoid failure. Say you want to “lose weight” with no timeline and you can always tell yourself (and others!) that you still intend to do it. A day will never pass that you will have to accept failure.

Avoiding the risk of failing myself
Over the last 15 years or so, I’ve built a respectable toolbox of professional skills. I can do all sorts of design. I can code the frontend of websites. I’m a decent enough copywriter. I know the basics of SEO and managing an advertising campaign. I can do some fairly impressive hacks of WordPress. I like to think I’m good at many things that come in handy if you’re paving your way through the world of startups.

But, in my view, there is one glaring hole in my abilities. I don’t know how to program.

My name is Mark. And I can’t code.

Not everyone needs to know how to code. But I should. And I’ve intended to learn for about a decade. I’ve watched a bunch of online courses. I’ve rated the fake books on countless times. But I’ve never stuck with it.

I’ve been deluding myself by not setting any specific goals. I keep intending to learn and by not planting any specific flags in the ground, I can avoid failure. I can keep telling myself I’ll learn one day. I can keep not doing the work.

It’s time to change that with a well-defined, publicly-stated goal.

By December 31, 2015 I will know how to code.

Let’s get even more specific. By the end of the year, I’ll be able to develop a straight-forward web app in Ruby on Rails. The kind of thing where you can create an account, post something, edit it, and maybe even delete it. Boom.

Starting next week, I’ll be working with a CodeMentor to learn how to do this. I don’t intend to become a full-time developer, just as I’m not a full-time designer. But it’d be nice to be able to help bring my ideas to the world, even if it’s just for side projects and hackathons.

To increase my odds of success, I won’t be doing this alone. My business partners, Vipin and Minesh, will be participating as well. Along the way, we’ll be blogging and sharing our progress (or lack thereof). I have a different technical starting point than they do, so it will be fun to see how the three of us progress as a team.

  • Defined goal and timeline? Check.
  • Talented mentor to help out and keep us honest? Check.
  • Motivated teammates to share the journey with? Check.
  • Social pressure of people watching? Check.

If this doesn’t work, nothing will. If I can’t code by December 31, I will have failed. I will have to admit that and feel the sting.

But I’m not going to let that happen. By the start of the new year, I’ll going to dazzle everyone with the ability to build a poorly-coded but functional project.

Let the learning begin.

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Mark Webster

About Mark Webster

One of the Co-Founders of SideTour, former TechStar (NYC Summer 2011), ex-NBA'er, and past TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Winner.